Introduction from the Editorial Committee

This is CCC’s personal advice column. Write to us with your persistent problem, or what we call a “Beef.” We will research it and suggest quick remedies. If better solutions can come from collaborative regional efforts, then we will explain that also.

But if you want a comforting Dear Abby-like response that implies you are a victim of circumstance and, thus, are off the hook, you might not want to write us. After all, we are citizens and consumers; and as the theory goes, we control our destiny. And as the practice goes, change starts with us.

That requires cutting to the quick. So CCC’s Editorial Committee created a character to answer your questions. No Abigail. His name is ST for Straight-Talker. But this fictional Editor represents the skills of listening to people and mincing no words. Those in power may not like his answers. But about this column we can predict: answers will be clear and cut to the quick.

ST is also fair. Sometimes, citizens of the NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) persuasion distract the larger community from solving problems. If this is the Beef of a public official, ST will do your work and chastise the public. ST will grant anonymity to your Beef.

Here is ST’s advice. After reading it, email your Beef and comments to us.

 

Book

Send your Beef to:
ST@ccc-chicagolandcitizenscentral.org

Straight-Talker has answered these Beefs; starting with the most recent.

-STAR Line Beef
-Stuck In Traffic


 

 

Dear Straight-Talker:

   What happened to the STAR Line? This train would connect rail lines and many major suburban roads. Recently, I read the 2040 Plan suggested instead that the STAR be a bus.

   I’m disappointed. Because this sounded like an improved commute for my employees, I went to a meeting two years ago and answered a survey. About a dozen employees were likely to commute on the STAR. My firm’s offices are in Arlington Heights, although I live near the western edge of DuPage County. Both are near proposed STAR Line stations.

   Meanwhile, my commutes on I-90 and Route 59 are getting longer and more expensive. And recently, a few good employees left to take jobs closer to their homes. Two others left and now take the train to Chicago.

   What alternatives do we have to waiting for government to improve commutes?

Sincerely,
Losing Money & Employees

map STAR could connect as many as 100 communities running west from O'Hare along I-90 and then south along Route 59 to Joliet. While this would help tie suburbs together and greatly enhance METRA's hub and spoke system, the STAR has disadvantages. In addition to the high projected operating losses that put STAR on the back-burner, it also has two common design problems. First, sharing a corridor with an expressway makes transit riders standing on the platform feel like second-class citizens watching cars go by. Second, the STAR's south leg shares track with freight trains. This tends to limit the nearby population of riders.

Dear Losing M&E:

   Like you, I had great hopes for the STAR Line. From its map, one sees how it could connect many of our 250+ fractured suburbs and help Chicagoland, sort of, work together. To be frank, STAR gave me warm fuzzies (and as an aging man who has observed politics for a long time, I don’t get warm fuzzies very often.)

   Unfortunately, the most likely scenario I can conjure up for your employees and many suburban dwellers is this: minimal progress. Your wasted time and money will ebb and flow for a few years. But to succeed, transit must generate more revenue. In the mid-term, transit investments must be coupled with more compact neighborhoods.

   STAR as a bus lane on I-90 is likely to help before 2020. STAR as a train now looks long-term. Here’s how to commute better and sooner.

   First, find ride-shares for employees. Go to https://www.pacerideshare.reachlocal.net/en-US/. Assign an employee to get good at coordinating rides for others. It beats complaining and it will beat wasted time in traffic and, worse, having to invest in new employees.

   Second, keep key employees by keeping them near work. A growing number of employers are helping employees purchase homes. For a key employee, the risk is minimal and your yield is large. Go to www.metroplanning.org/work/project/8. This might seem like an expensive solution. But as my accompanying Analysis indicates below, most solutions are expensive and many of those are long-term.

   In the very short-term (possibly 2012), I-90 travel times will be reduced by the Illinois Tollway’s new Congestion Pricing program. Using similar programs, commute times have dropped substantially in other metropolises, such as Minneapolis. Congestion Pricing works by charging more for the fast lane during rush hour and peak travel times. If you are sharing rides, the increased costs to your I-Pass will be marginal.

   But, the bad news is: the time saved by Congestion Pricing will be stolen by worsening traffic when using outlying arterials. And sorry for you, Route 59 falls into that category. Too much traffic gets funneled into it because there are too few through-roads and no alternatives to transport more and more people.

   So, how do you make-up for lost time on these arterials? A Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) line will run on a dedicated lane from O’Hare to Schaumburg and, eventually, Route 59. (This is suggested in The 2040 Plan.)

   But when the Bus finally gets as far as 59, you still have five miles to get< home. This will be a common problem, but maybe an entrepreneurial jitney service or even a more reliable regular bus service can get you and other BRT riders to their homes or workplaces. So, it is possible to get out of your car commute in several years. Then, you will be able to use your time for something more productive like reading or answering emails… or you might even be able to relax.

   So to summarize the commuting plight for you and many employees: it will
get worse for 2 years, improve with congestion pricing, but soon will be as bad as it is now as arterials worsen. The next improvement, Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) can work. But for it to improve economically and fiscally, it needs the support of more compact development.

   Before something like STAR can happen, it requires more analysis and detailed suggestions. You should read the Analysis below; because it is your time and tax dollars at work also.

Your friend,
ST




Detailed Analysis and Editorializing By The Straight-Talker

To explain how STAR has fallen and can rise again, we make 3 points.

1) Why STAR Matters To Suburbanites
2) What STAR Tells Us About Transit’s Sorry Short-term Economics
3) How We Can Remake Transit’s Economics To Work In The 21st Century

Click here for a detailed Analysis.



(This was ST's first letter published in Fall 2010.)

Dear ST:

I live near Roosevelt Road and commute to downtown Chicago through the Hillside Strangler. Two new lanes were supposed to fix this ten years ago. Now, driving takes as long as ever. Alternatives take even longer. I avoid taking the train downtown because I live 12 minutes from the station and parking is not convenient. Plus, the walk from the downtown station to work is 12 more minutes. So, I feel like I’m stuck driving and stuck in traffic. What can I do about it?

-- J.V. stuck in Villa Park

 

 

Dear Stuck:

   You are not alone. The average car commuter who drives to work in Chicago annually wastes $3,014 in lost time. As for the headaches, put your price on that.

   Your Beef is important. It gets repeated throughout Chicagoland with most new roads. Traffic engineers describe this phenomenon as “induced traffic.” Briefly, this means that those people who avoided the congested older road will fill up quickly the new lanes.

   Look at it this way: adding lanes is like trying to cure overeating by buying bigger pants. Take my word for it, new pants doesn’t solve the problem. New lanes don’t either.

   But that doesn’t stop local politicians from making big promises about new lanes. As elsewhere, they failed to reduce congestion at Hillside because they lacked the nerve to attack the problem: that suburbanites have too few alternatives and, instead, have to get on the big roads and sit in their cars.

   Many suburbanites want solutions and they are increasing demands for them. Here’s a quick solution for you to get un-Stuck: PACE has van-pooling. Go to pacebus.com/sub/vanpool/traditional_vanpool.asp. Then click on METRA stations at the page’s bottom.

   Also if you live near a PACE bus line, the service can save you time at rush hour.

   But, any option is worth trying if it helps you take the train. You will spend time more productively. And you can save big bucks. A study by the American Public Transit Association says the average Chicagoland resident who takes transit daily to work saves $11,457 a year.

    If you save even $700 a month and reduce traffic headaches, isn’t it worth getting to the station?

   I suppose you could car-pool downtown. Making this more possible, The 2040 Plan does recommend a dedicated lane through Hillside’s Strangler for cars with multiple passengers and buses. But given how badly Illinois has managed its finances, it will take many years before road agencies act decisively on this simple conversion of an existing lane.

   Don’t wait. Get to the train the best way for you and walk from Ogilvie Transportation Center to work. You’ll get more exercise, have less stress and a smaller Beef… and, as a region, we won’t have to buy new pants. And don’t forget that during the lousy weather, you’re building character… and saving for a retirement home in Florida.

   Now that you know how to get un-Stuck, do a good deed: tell your neighbors, help them get un-stuck from car commuting and be a good citizen of Chicagoland.

 

Your friend,
ST




img

More analysis:

Traffic heading to Chicago from the three main expressways of the west suburbs all go into this interchange. Two design mistakes compound this problem. First, there need to be more exits from the Kingery Highway to Mannheim. Second and related, there is an insufficient grid of surrounding streets. Thus, local drivers have too few alternatives other than to add to expressway traffic. These are common problems for interchanges, repeated throughout Chicagoland. Note also in this map that there are two very large cemeteries nearby. Can there be any relation to that and the road’s name, the Strangler?



Bottomline:

The Strangler resulted from very bad planning and will be costly to improve and, still, will be a bottleneck. Avoid stranglers. Besides, your pay is better when you use transit.


Note to Readers. The Editorial Committee wants to hear your Beef. Straight-Talker will give you common sense advice; uncluttered from covering up the mistakes of the past. Also… if ST said something wrong or could have said it better, let us know. (ST means well, but doesn’t do well always; in part resulting from an old football injury. Football was his ticket through college… and he didn’t go to the University of Chicago).

Send Your Beef To: ST@ccc-chicagolandcitizenscentral.org

If you want strict privacy of your address, that is our policy. If you want anonymity, you got it (but do tell us the town of your residence so we can resolve your specific Beef). The CCC Editorial Committee screens ST’s mail first and, like ST, protects those who do the right things for the region.